Ports, Profits, People & Prosperity

Arriana Huffington's book "Third World America" provides ample warning for our current government and business leaders regarding the dangers of putting short term profits before people and maintaining important infrastructure. Efficiency drives are also dangerous when the desired outcome is cost savings rather than improved outcomes. The Port of Auckland dispute has exemplified many of the issues confronting our country under our current leadership regime.

The POAL is the largest container port in the country and is the second most efficient port in Australasia. Last year cargo volumes were up by 24% and there was a very healthy 2.1% increase in normalised profit (providing the company almost $25 million after tax).  The 6% dividend that Auckland City receives from this "council owned enterprise" appeared to be a very good return considering a generally subdued economy. I wouldn't have thought huge changes were necessary and the demand that the dividend be increased from 6% to 12% appeared excessive.  This Gulf News article provides a balanced description of the background to the current dispute.

The casualistion of a workforce is the almost complete abdication of an employer's responsibility to recognise basic workers' rights. A casual position has few of the securities provided by permanent jobs; annual holidays, sick leave, the right to notice or severance pay do not apply. When work may be intermittent and unskilled it is understandable that a casual workforce would be a pragmatic solution, as in many bars or restaurants, but where the work is constant and skilled to force casualisation on employees is cruel and unnecessary. The fact that the POAL is prepared to pay around $9 million in redundancy and severance pay  displays the level of determination to smash the workers into submission. Len Brown's callous response to calls for his intervention is a real concern when someone with his "Labour" background supports the erosion of working conditions over profit.

We are losing the big picture around what constitutes and creates prosperity. The US is beginning to discover that lack of investment in infrastructure and a skilled workforce stifles economic growth and reduces economic competitiveness. Our roads, rail networks and ports need to be efficient to enable businesses to get their products to markets in a timely and cost effective manner. While it is important to ensure that such infrastructure is sustainable financially the main driver should be the level of service it provides. The best service from a port would gained through a workforce that is experienced, skilled and  works collaboratively. The best employment model to ensure this must surely be one where there is job security a collegial approach to working and a level of goodwill created through employer acknowledgement of the value of  the work. I can't see how this could be delivered through a casualised model.

Real prosperity should be regarded in a national sense and something all New Zealanders should share. As the POAL increased profitability and cargo volumes, rather than recognise the wharfies by sharing the economic fruits of their efforts they have been cruelly cast aside and treated abominably. If this government is so concerned to keep a skilled and well qualified workforce in New Zealand it is certainly not evident in practice. With the casualisation of skilled labour, cutting thousands of high qualified jobs from the state sector, outsourcing much of our manufacturing and keeping wage increases well below the CPI we are effectively forcing the exportation our most capable workers. 

As we develop into a low wage economy, with an increasingly casualised workforce and any gains in productivity being captured by our wealthy elite I can see justification for a book called "Third World New Zealand".


How can you incorporate ports, profit, people and prosperity? It's really interesting to read your article.

Anyway, I like your blog. Thanks

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